What good is having a business if no one knows about you? But how do you get the word out? Public relations is one of several proven ways for organizations to connect with their target audience, and is often (much) more cost effective than advertising. But how can you ensure that your press releases and PR efforts are getting to the right people?
Following are nine can't miss online tools, plus tips, that will help companies, regardless of their size or industry, improve their public and media outreach.
1. Create and share truly newsworthy content. "Your PR efforts are meaningless without a compelling and relevant piece of content," says Vaibhav Diwanji, digital marketing strategist, e-Intelligence, an SEO and Web design company. "Good content has the ability to get you great media coverage and garner substantial customer attention -- and will get people talking about your brand."
Just make sure your content is truly newsworthy, and that the information you are sharing is of interest or beneficial to journalists and your target audience. Maybe you are releasing a new product or service or making a major change to an existing product or service. Maybe you are merging with or being acquired by another company. Or you are announcing a big event or sale.
And don't just use traditional press releases to share your news. "Use videos and blog posts to effectively get your brand out there, too," says Diwanji.
2. Use services such as HARO, ProfNet & SourceBottle to connect with reporters and get mentions in publications. "Utilizing HARO [or a similar service] is a must," says Gail Axelrod, PR & Community Manager, OpenView Venture Partners. "Staying up to date with HARO [which publishes three editions of reporters' queries Monday through Friday] can help you generate a steady drumbeat of mentions," she explains. "Even if you're not actively responding or your responses aren't being utilized, you quickly get to know reporters, the beats they cover and the types of stories certain outlets tend to focus on."
"HARO provides a perfect platform for me to introduce my clients to relevant reporters that are writing stories on topics that my clients can speak to," says Suzy Casey, account manager, Geben Communication.
Just make sure to "give journalists exactly what they're asking for," says Molly Reynolds, president of Public Relations at Trepoint, a digital marketing company. "Depending on the [HARO or ProfNet] query, journalists can get hundreds of responses."
To beat the competition, carefully read the reporter's query and make sure your reply properly answers it -- and that you have provided all of the requested information. (Very often people only answer, or address, part of a reporter's query, or forget to include contact information or social media handles, which drives reporters nuts.)
Additionally, "when using online services like HARO, ProfNet or SourceBottle, always assume the deadline is immediate," says Marianne O'Connor, CEO, Sterling Communications. "It doesn't matter what the posted deadline is: respond ASAP. Why? Because once the reporter has enough sources, he/she will simply 'turn off' the request. Get there first."
[Author's Note: I received that last tip just before my deadline, after my HARO post had been up for a week. Even though I already had enough sources, and had stopped accepting replies, I decided to include it because it makes an important point: Don't wait until the last minute to respond to a query.]
3. Take the time to establish (online) relationships with key reporters. "Identify the five reporters who regularly cover your specific sector and competitors, and work hard at building a relationship with them over the long term," says Sami McCabe, CEO, Clarity PR.
"I use Cision's media database to find the contact information and pitching preferences of the journalists I want to connect with," says Casey. (You can also use Google and Twitter to research reporters.) "Before pitching any reporter, I also always read her recent articles and review her social media profiles to make sure that the story I am pitching is right for the reporter and her interests."
Once you've done your research, "engage with [reporters] via social media and provide analysis and commentary where relevant -- even if it doesn't directly result in coverage for your company," advises McCabe. "Win the trust of the reporter by consistently providing him or her with relevant, timely and insightful comments," he continues. "The goal is to establish yourself as a reliable and authoritative commentator. This takes time and persistence."
4. Connect with reporters on Twitter. "Use Twitter frequently," says David Erickson, vice president, Online Marketing, Karwoski & Courage, a PR agency. "Reporters are heavy users of Twitter. It has become a primary way for them to develop expert sources," he explains. "Demonstrate your expertise on Twitter by sharing articles related to your industry and business that reporters who cover your industry would find compelling."
"Follow journalists that cover [your] specific industry and retweet, favorite and comment on their stories," adds Bonnie Shaw, president, Clearpoint Agency. "This helps to form a relationship with journalists via Twitter." Then, when your "company has a development or announcement, they can then tweet their news using the journalist's Twitter handle to ensure they see that news," she says.
"We also recommend capitalizing on trending topics. Use trending hashtags (if possible) that are relevant to whatever your news is," she advises. "This will increase exposure of the tweet well beyond the account's followers."
5. Use LinkedIn to publish thought-leadership pieces. "Use LinkedIn's 'publish-a-post' feature," suggests Michiko Morales, senior vice president, Public Relations, at Gabriel Marketing Group. "LinkedIn's free self-publishing tool, Pulse, is an easy but powerful platform to promote your company's unique viewpoints, expertise and thought leadership among highly-targeted groups of business professionals," she explains. "You can blog as often as you like and can start building your follower base and promoting your brand worldwide."
6. Use Facebook to share and spread news. "Social media is a fantastic place to generate PR," says Jason Parks, owner, The Media Captain, a digital marketing company. "With Facebook's pinpoint targeting with advertising, you can promote a press release or blog and drive a massive amount of quality website traffic to your site."
"According to Cision's State of the Media Report, journalists' top two usages for Facebook and Twitter are relationship building and the marketing/promotion of their stories," says Casey. "Therefore PR pros should use [Facebook and Twitter] to comment on journalists' stories and share and promote journalists' stories."
7. Know when to target vs. broadcast your news. "Press release distribution platforms like MarketWired, PRWeb, BusinessWire and PR Newswire have a time and a place, particularly for publicly traded companies," notes Julie Wright, president, (W)right On Communications, a marketing & communications company. "But to generate press coverage, a targeted pitch to the right journalist at the right time will always be more productive," she argues.
To help with targeted one-to-one communication, "you can use email distribution platforms, such as Constant Contact, which helps you measure opens and clicks, too."
8. Measure your results, so you can improve them. "Measurement of PR's impact can include tracking custom URLs, Google Analytics reports, coverage achieved and other metrics determined by your team," explains Wright. "Depending on a company's internal resources, media coverage can be benchmarked and tracked manually (via Google Alerts, for instance) or via automated services (like Cision or TrendKite). Subscribing to a media monitoring tool can be pricey but reduces the workload and can more cost-effectively track competitor media coverage by volume and content as well."
9. Consider hiring a PR agency. Depending on the size of your company, your expertise or resources, you may be better off hiring a PR agency than doing all the PR work yourself.
"At a certain point your time will be better spent making sales or working on your product, rather than trying to do your own PR," says Arleigh Galant Vasconcellos, principal, The Agency. "When hiring a PR firm or person, do your research. A boutique agency might be a better fit, especially if you work in a niche industry," she notes. "Specialized firms have the established connections within target industry groups and media to help you reach the right audience."